Telling tales far from tragedy |

Telling tales far from tragedy

Geraldine Haldner

“What’s a geyser, guys?” asked Vail Police Officer Steve Wright, the first featured storyteller. The 10-year veteran law enforcement man – who said after his well-received performance that he experienced no stage fright because “it was a good crowd” – had chosen “Bubba Bear” to read to about 50 youngsters assembled in the arms or on the laps of mothers and fathers.

The fidgety but attentive crowd went quiet – several mini-firefighters and pig-tailed ballerinas gnawed on lips and looked for the answer in their mothers’ faces – before Wright offered the ice-breaker.

“It’s water coming out of the ground; and what does water do?” he said, his words drowned out in a giggly “swoosh” as his young listeners gladly obliged, acting out splashing water.

Always an hour filled with good cheer and fun, the library’s story hour on this poignant day was no different, except that the storytellers wore uniforms and the story-listeners all left with a badge and a mini-American flag.

While adults paid tribute and celebrated the gift of life Wednesday, these children simply enjoyed the moment – something Vail Firefighter Mike Vaughn said is a joy to observe.

Vaughn, who volunteered for storytelling duty – he has plenty of practice with daughter Madison, 8, and son, Matthew, 6 – said he looked forward to reading to children on a day when his dark blue uniform attracts attention wherever he goes.

“It’s part of my job to reach out to our community, young and old. It’s fun to be here, especially today,” said the 22-year veteran firefighter, who started with the Vail Fire Department as a student on Sept. 10, 1980.

The irony of his hiring date, he said, struck him just the a couple of days ago – he didn’t feel like celebrating much, but being all gloom and doom, isn’t the way to go either, he said.

“I was very angry,” he said. “But then I realized I had to move on.”

In order to be as good a father and husband as he can be and provide the best support and education to younger firefighters, he said he had to put “bizarro-Mike in a box.”

Vaughn, known around town for never being short of words, regaled the children with two stories – one about smart pigs, the other about blind passengers on a fire truck.

“My kids argued all week about which one I should read,” he explained to his tiny listeners, who cheered at the possibility of a two-for-one story deal.

“So, I’m going to try to squeeze in both,” Vaughn said.

Before they launched into their stories, Vaughn and Wright were serenaded in a happy and loud discord only eager children can produce.

Under the guidance of Vail Children’s Librarian Ann Sinton, the youngsters emphatically sang “I’m a policeman” to the melody of “I’m a little teapot.”

“I’m a policeman, dressed in blue; I wear a uniform and I am brave for you,” they belted out with the help of some more tone-conscious parents. “I can drive the squad car, put on the sirens, too, and help make everything safe for you.”

Making things appear safe against the backdrop of travesty, parents said, was what they had to do on Sept. 11 one year ago.

“We sat her down and explained to her that this was a really sad day and that a lot of people had died and that’s why we were crying,” said MaryAnn Michaelas, who brought her 2-year-old daughter, Carlie, to hear the police officer and the fireman “because it is a special day.”

They normally go to story hour at the Avon Library, she said, but decided to drive the extra miles to attend the special story hour in Vail.

Despite Carlie’s young age, her mom says the toddler noticed how upset people were one year ago.

“It was tough,” Carlie’s mom said. “She couldn’t understand why we were watching TV and crying.”

Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at

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